Committee defeats proposal to shrink Missouri House membership

Thursday, April 7, 2011 | 6:47 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri House of Representatives committee on Thursday rejected a proposal to downsize its chamber after critics questioned whether residents would be sufficiently represented in a smaller legislature.

The proposed constitutional amendment that called for paring the 163-member Missouri House to 103 seats was rejected 9-7 in a House committee. Critics said they feared larger legislative districts would make it more difficult for state lawmakers to walk through their entire districts and meet constituents.

Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, who sponsored the proposal, said his goal was to save money and reduce the number of bad bills that get filed. He said after the committee rejected the measure that he was pleased by the amount of discussion it generated.

"Asking members to vote to eliminate their own positions can be challenging," said Burlison. He said he was considering some of the critiques and was not sure if he would offer a similar proposal next year.

State officials estimate that eliminating 60 lawmakers could save Missouri about $4.7 million per year.

Lawmakers said the savings were enticing but that the legislature must be large enough to effectively represent nearly 6 million Missourians.

"I think the current number of representatives is appropriate because it gets government closer to the people," said Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific.

Lawmakers in about a half-dozen states have suggested shrinking the number of legislators that are elected. There have been similar proposals over the years, but the ideas have generated more attention in some states because of the pressure on lawmakers to look for savings while cutting budgets.

In Missouri, the state Senate already has endorsed its own measure that would scrap 60 House members after the 2020 census — by which time all serving lawmakers would have left that chamber because of term limits. The Senate measure needs another vote before moving to the House and ultimately would need to win approval from voters.

An initiative petition also has been proposed to cut the number of lawmakers, and that could appear on the 2012 ballot.

Elsewhere, the House speaker in Pennsylvania has proposed cutting 50 lawmakers from the 203-member chamber after redistricting a decade from now and contends that a smaller chamber could be more effective.

The nation's largest legislature is in New Hampshire, which has 424 lawmakers, including 400 in the House. The fewest lawmakers are in Nebraska, which has 49 members in its unicameral legislature.

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